VENDÔME
WELCOME TO D-LICIOUS

Welcome. D-licious is our food column in DROME style. You will find here reviews of sensory travels in the starred restaurants of the world, recipes inspired by novels, stories of ingredients and of the protagonists of the contemporary avantguardist cuisine. To do the honours is our tale about the tasting menu of the greatest chef in Germany, Joachim Wissler. Come along.

VENDÔME

Late Summer Menu 2011

The Vendôme is the realm of chef Joachim Wissler, just few miles away from Cologne in Germany and it is part of the grand hotel Schloss Bengsberg, an austere structure shaped like a horse shoe: the restaurant is located at the end of the right wing where there used to be the stalls.

I arrive on a rainy but not too cold evening of July: the taxicab leaves my colleague and I in front of the hotel, making us cut across the entire courtyard in almost complete darkness. The restaurant is there, locked from the inside, like a Masonic temple without any particular lights to indicate its presence. Booked few months ahead, our table is in between the two dining rooms: the dim lights; the rosy marble walls; the alabaster urn that keeps alive a late-gothic composition of deep crimson roses; the central table for the service underneath it; the two huge prints on glass hanging from the side walls are probably portraying a detail of Victory from the Siegessäule in Berlin and Place Vendôme in Paris, but they rather seem a pitiless attempt to inform you that you have now ended in a family vault, rarely visited, of a Nazi officer. The fireworks and the fatal blow to the pinãta come in the shape of fanciful amuse-buche among which two hilarious effervescent cones that make you giggle and prepare you to the 16-courses tasting menu. We start with the extremely delicate Maccaron, a meringue macaroon with mushroom, ricotta and soy mayonnaise to which a surprisingly composition follows, made with calf’s heart, artichokes and pine nuts vinaigrette.

My colleague and Vendôme’s manager, Miguel Calero, exchange few comments about the possibility of being able to serve a still-beating heart, to which I reply amused, “you guys are gross!” and the manager, “but that’s how you like us to be!” Ohh. I turn to look at the other tables: starting from the right, a table with two ladies, on in her thirties is wearing a military uniform, the other one, slightly older, is dressed in scarlet red. At the next table there’s a German upper middle class family of a father and a mother in their sixties and a son in his twenties, they are all wearing grey, almost the same fabric. Staying extremely orderly at the table, they seem to be born in those three-Michelin-starred chairs, to have spat their very first baby food and to have pronounced for the first time the word foie gras on it: but the lady raises her hands and I get to notice that she has her nails polished in a sky-blue colour, a fluorescent sky-blue! This Lynchian game of the goose continues with an undistinguished gorgeous couple that hysterically roll about with laughter on the luxuries of life, as in one of those liquor adverts. They are so lively, I don’t get how they manage to be moving so gracefully: at the seventh meat-based course and after four consecutive coriander-mined dishes, we are starting to flounder. The veal, the goose liver, the stomach of the pork, the truffle, the venison make us slip into a nightmare where we are in the middle of a forest and it is always night, and it is always autumn. The ability of this dishes to drag us in an hallucination is incredible: the smells, the textures, the ubiquitous dashi that make you feel like your mouth is constantly dirty, and the movements of the staff that seem like walk-ons in a claustrophobic mise en scène they all make you pray for a sudden awakening and, at the same time, they amaze you with the power of the story they are telling the story of a war fought in a French kitchen.

After the dish Essence (from the Forest), which seems to be somehow the manifesto of the menu, we start praying for an escape, an ice-cream, a sorbet. If this is the late summer menu, we wonder, how could the winter one possibly be? In the meantime I go to the restrooms which are located behind one of the many doors in the underground corridors covered in marble which lead to the rest of the hotel. I get lost. I go back to the table hoping to not find myself suddenly in another set, a XIX-century prison where the waiters are now torturers and Miguel welcomes you with a spiked club, and instead Granité arrives, a sweet peas granita served with coconut and lemon: what a relief. The fennel and grapefruit Parfait and Chocolate, a dessert with tobacco and blackberry caviar pull us out of the forest and the muddy trench through razor wires, and bypassing the offer of the pralines which, in another moment, would have seemed to us as precious jewels, but that look now just like balls of indigestible problems. We leave this screenplay written by Wissler who if he were a playwright, he would be Edward Albee in The Goat, merciless and extremely refined. And feeling happy to have survived this late summer genocide, we run from the Vendôme to our taxi, because the umbrella just broke.

Sada Ranis

Grandhotel Schloss Bensberg
Kadettenstraße – Bergisch Gladbach
Germany
web: www.schlossbengsberg.com